Wednesday, August 12, 2009
184 days to go...and counting!
I have been asked to do an interview on CBC today to discuss my comments in Jim Morris' CP story that appeared yesterday in USA Today, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, and on the CTV website, the Globe and Mail, Toronto Sun, and other publications.
If you didn't read the story, I was asked to comment on the impact of the 2010 Olympics on Vancouver. My first first thought was that the impact would be less than that of EXPO 86. After all, prior to 1986, Vancouver was not really considered a world class city; however, I believe the World's Fair changed that. For the last few years, Vancouver has either topped, or been near the top of the list of the world's most livable cities. I attribute that to the physical changes that were either related to EXPO 86 facilities, or which started after 1986: SkyTrain, the Convention Centre, the redevelopment of the north shore of False Creek, the redevelopment of Coal Harbour and more importantly, a new spirit in the city.
We were asked to invite the world, and we did. 22 million people attended the expo, and despite a deficit of $311 million, or perhaps more, it was considered a tremendous success. It changed our city forever.
In thinking about the possible physical legacies from the 2010 Olympics, I thought of the Olympic Oval Skating facility, which is a very impressive structure. There are facilities at Whistler and Callaghan Valley but I am not as familiar with them. (Although I have read that the sliding facility is essentially a 'refrigerator in the sky' with very significant energy consumption).
In the case of the redevelopment of SouthEast False Creek, that was going to happen anyway. Furthermore, as soon as it became the site for the Olympic Athletes' housing, the complexion of the project changed significantly. It had to be finished on time. As a result, special legal arrangements were put in place which led to the financial problems that have occurred.
While the project is very impressive, (especially in terms of its magnitude as a single phase development), and could well become a delightful place to live....and I hate to be negative...but I am concerned about the potential financial legacy of this project for Vancouver taxpayers. It could well become our 'big owe'.
Since I suspect many will question my judgement when comparing EXPO 86 to the 2010 Olympics, I think it is important to reflect on some of the lasting contributions of this fair. In addition to SkyTrain and Canada Place, we also got the BC Place Stadium, Science world, and the Plaza of Nations (ok, maybe it wasn't such a great legacy!). The floating McDonalds is not on my list!By the way, if you are wondering what happened to the Monorail, it's in Alton Towers, a theme park in UK. The hockey stick is in Duncan, and the world's largest flagpole now greets you when you enter Surrey. Ironically, the Inukshuk which was used in the Northwest Territories pavilion is now a landmark on English Bay beach, and the symbol for the Olympics.
The Coquihalla Highway was another legacy which helped business and tourism throughout the interior of the province.
While highlighting these legacies, I don't want to diminish potential legacies from the upcoming Olympics. We did get an extension of the SkyTrain and an expansion of the Convention Centre. However, both were in the planning works...there's an upgraded road to Whistler, although I for one question whether we needed to spend quite so much on that....like the Olympic Village, I think the scope and cost changed because of the Olympics affiliation.
There will also be many legacies that are not physical. The 2010 Legacies program has been very active, especially around the province. While I don't know a lot about it, from what I have seen, I suspect it will change many people's lives for the better. And I suspect that our athletes will be much more successful than they were in Calgary in 1988 when we didn't win even one gold medal.
Coincidentally, there is one thing that has not benefited from either EXPO 88 or the Olympics...the Downtown Eastside. Former Premier Bill Bennett and others hoped that Expo would help revitalize the DTES. It didn't happen. Similarly, Larry Campbell, Jim Green and others hoped that the Olympics would have a positive effect on the community. This hasn't happened either.
Notwithstanding these comments, I am a supporter of the Olympics and hope to see them further improve the city and province. There is no doubt that our economic health over the past five years has already directly benefitted from the Olympics. While I understand the resentment and negativity of many people towards the Olympics, many of them have already benefitted. I hope they do not try to disrupt the event and spoil the party. Yes, these are tough economic times, but I would rather have a party, than a war, to bring back greater prosperity.